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Essential Tips for Acing the GRE: Analytical Writing

The analytical writing section of the GRE is completely different from the other two sections. It is the first one you will encounter on test day, and it requires you to construct 2 well-planned, intelligent essays in just 30 minutes each. You will first complete an Analyze the Issue task; this section requires you to pick a side of an argument presented and defend it with good reasoning. The second task is Analyze the Argument, and instead of giving your opinion, you will be asked to analyze the legitimacy of a claim. Each essay will be given a score of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6, and your total score will be an average of each of your individual scores. Go to ETS Analytical Writing Help for more information about each type of essay and examples of what caliber of writing will get you each score. You can also go to Score Descriptions to see examples of what kind of essays make what score.   


1. Practice.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again; the most important thing to do is to practice. It is difficult to write a well-structured essay in such a small time limit, so you will need to get used to the pressure. This also helps you create a formula for the essays. Since the graders will only read one of your responses, you can write essays with almost identical structure every time you practice and replicate it on test day. Find the structure and length that works for you, and stick to it. This will cut back on planning time when you are actually taking the test, and since you have thought the structure through without the stressful time limits, it will likely help you construct a better essay for the test.

It is also important to practice using actual prompts from the people who make the GRE. You can go to Pool of Issue Topics and Pool of Argument Topics for practice topics from the people who make the GRE. These topics have been on the test before, so they will be similar to the topics you encounter on test day.


2. Use detailed examples.

After the time limit, this will probably be your biggest challenge, and it is probably one of the most important things for you to do when test day comes. The people who read your essays want to see that you can support your statements with facts, and the best way to do this is to give detailed examples. They are not interested in hearing you speak in generalities. The graders of your exam want to see that you can take personal and historical information and apply it to novel situations. They want to see that you can create an argument that will hold against counterarguments.


3. Pay attention to the time.

One of the hardest parts of the analytical writing section is getting a well thought out, intelligent essay typed in only 30 minutes, so you need to pay close attention to how much time you have left. Because you have practiced so many practice essays, you should know when you are running low on time. Be prepared to cut your essay to be able to finish. It is much more important that your essay has an obvious beginning and ending than it being six paragraphs that are not well written. The essays with the highest scores tend to have between 400 and 550 words, so practice according to this standard. However, if your essay is 500 words, but it does not have good structure, you will not get a score as high as a 400-word essay with very good structure. With this being said, length is important, but good organization is even more important.


4. Make an outline (quickly).

I would recommend taking the first 3-5 minutes brainstorming ideas and organizing them into an outline. This may seem like a waste of time, but it will probably actually save you time because you won’t have to worry about which point goes where. You need to make sure that your essay follows a logical order, uses good transitions, and has an obvious beginning and end. The people grading your essays want to see your ability to format a logical argument, so don’t lose points because you did not take the time to organize your thoughts.


5. For the Analyze the Issue task, pick a side and stick with it.

You don’t have time to change your mind 10 minutes into the essay writing. Even if you DO change your mind, you will be better off simply going with what you have. Writing an essay in 30 minutes is already hard enough; doing it in less time will be near impossible. Also, don’t worry about which side to pick in the argument; the graders do not care, and you will not be penalized for picking either. They simply want to assess your persuasive writing abilities and your ability to argue a point.

It is also a good idea to present counter-arguments and disprove them. An argument is perceived as much stronger if you can actively show that it can stand against criticism.


6. Pay attention to the instructions.

The general idea will be the same for each prompt, but the specific guidelines might vary slightly. In the Analyze the Issue task, you will always be asked to state an opinion on the topic, but the way in which you support that opinion might differ slightly. Go to Analyze the Issue Instructions for a list of the different instruction options. Similarly, in all the Analyze the Argument essays, you are asked to locate errors in the reasoning, but again the way in which you are to support your statements might vary slightly. Go to Analyze the Argument Instructions for a list of the different options. Be sure to do practice essays with each of the different instruction types.


The GRE is a monster of a test, and it can be very overwhelming. Use the tips from all four of my articles to help you make your best score!





Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash



I am a senior psychology major at UTM, and if you need me, I'm probably hanging out with my cat. I am a sister of Zeta Tau Alpha and Secretary of Psi Chi, along with involvement in several other on campus organizations. I love all things books, coffee, and travel but preferably a combination of all three!
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